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Inaugural MTSU Scholars Program cohort presents re...

Inaugural MTSU Scholars Program cohort presents research into Midstate urban planning challenges

Middle Tennessee State University students participating in the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program are shown May 3 outside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where they concluded this year’s program with the research presentations inside a building classroom. Picture, front row from left, are Andrea Lawrence, COE-URP executive assistant; scholars Anna Collins, Lula Baldriche, Nottely Seagraves and Leah Kimbro; Murat Arik, chairholder; and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. Back row, from left, COE-URP graduate assistant Josh Narrell; and scholars Matthew Liu, Elijah Mitchell, Usman Saeed and Nathaniel Harrison. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

By Josh Narrell

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Middle Tennessee State University’s Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning, or COE-URP, embarked on a novel journey this past year through its Scholars Program, a pilot initiative to provide undergraduate students with research opportunities related to explosive growth in the Midstate region.

The program, which began last August and spanned the entire academic year, concluded earlier this month when participating students presented their research on key urban planning challenges in Middle Tennessee.

The COE-URP Scholars Program emphasizes the importance of community engagement and support through academic research with the university’s unique position in the region offering an incredible opportunity to apply academic research to the challenges brought on by the region’s rapid growth. 

Dr. Murat Arik, assistant professor of management, Jones College of Business, and director of the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center
Dr. Murat Arik

Eight undergraduate students who completed this inaugural cohort were tasked with identifying and researching an urban planning challenge faced by Middle Tennessee residents. They were paired with a faculty mentor from across academic disciplines, provided with in-depth training on the research process, and given the opportunity to hear from experts on topics such as housing, sustainability, livability, mobility, economic development and growth. 

“This structure provided the students with a nuanced understanding of the region’s needs while also fostering a vital connection between the university and the community,” said Murat Arik, holder of the Chair of Excellence in Regional and Urban Planning in the Jones College of Business.

Program participant Anna Collins, an agribusiness major from Pleasant View, highlighted the Scholars Program’s impact on students, saying the program’s feature of taking students “through the research process slowly has been really helpful when I don’t have that opportunity with other projects.” She also noted that the initiative’s focus on regional challenges had taught her more about her community through her own research and through the collaboration with other cohort members.

Applications for next year’s program are open until May 15. For more information or to apply, visit https://w1.mtsu.edu/urp/scholarsprogram.php

Middle Tennessee State University student Anna Collins, an agribusiness major from Pleasant View, Tenn., second from left, receives her certificate of completion May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Presenting the certificate is chairholder Murat Arik, right, and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
Middle Tennessee State University student Anna Collins, an agribusiness major from Pleasant View, Tenn., second from left, receives her certificate of completion May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Presenting the certificate is chairholder Murat Arik, right, and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

From climate to traffic to health, more

The inaugural cohort’s research, presented May 3 inside the Academic Classroom Building on campus, was a testament to the program’s value, as each student not only presented data but also proposed solutions. Here are brief summaries of their research areas of interest:

• Collins explored the factors that impact farmers selling their land, such as Internet access, burnout, and a lack of support, as the state loses 50,000 acres of agricultural land annually.

Middle Tennessee State University student Lula Baldriche, a physics major from Knoxville, Tenn., gives her research presentation May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
Middle Tennessee State University student Lula Baldriche, a physics major from Knoxville, Tenn., gives her research presentation May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

• Scholar Lula Baldriche, a physics major from Knoxville, focused her research on the multifaceted need for community gardens, using geographic information systems, or GIS, to determine and map available arable land for potential urban agricultural use in Nashville. 

Nathaniel Harrison, COE-URP Scholars Program inaugural cohort
Nathaniel Harrison
Leah Kimbro, COE-URP Scholars Program inaugural cohort
Leah Kimbro

• Nathaniel Harrison, an accounting major from Cookeville, researched the pressing issue of urban heat islands in the region, proposing various roof types as a possible solution to the increased temperatures urban areas experience.

• Communication major Leah Kimbro, of Smyrna, researched the connection between a city’s mental health ratings and walkability score, finding that more walkable cities tend to have better mental health ratings, suggesting the region would benefit from an initiative to increase walkability.

• Matthew Liu, a data science major from Murfreesboro, focused his research on solutions to the region’s traffic congestion, exploring solutions like an underground subway system and improved bus routes.

Matthew Liu, COE-URP Scholars Program inaugural cohort
Matthew Liu

• Fellow data science major Elijah Mitchell, of Smyrna, conducted research exploring the relationship between a county’s health ratings and the percentage of their income spent on health care. His analysis found a significant divide between rural and urban areas in Middle Tennessee, with rural areas bearing a significantly higher cost burden.

• Usman Saeed, a computer science major from Murfreesboro, conducted research on the available and needed skills in the region’s workforce, highlighting a gap between the education and skills provided by universities and those needed by employers; the research suggests a need for a more nuanced integration of needed skills into university programs.

Middle Tennessee State University data science major Elijah Mitchell, of Smyrna, Tenn., receives his certificate of completion May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Presenting the certificate is chairholder Murat Arik, second from right, faculty mentor and economics and finance professor Keith Jacks Gamble, right, and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
MTSU data science major Elijah Mitchell, of Smyrna, Tenn., receives his certificate of completion May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. Presenting the certificate is chairholder Murat Arik, second from right, faculty mentor and economics and finance professor Keith Jacks Gamble, right, and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
Middle Tennessee State University computer science major Usman Saeed of Murfreesboro, Tenn., gives his research presentation May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
MTSU computer science major Usman Saeed of Murfreesboro, Tenn., gives his research presentation May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

• Nottely Seagraves, a mathematical sciences major from Murfreesboro, explored the impact of Opportunity Zones on developmental inequality in Middle Tennessee, finding that these zones increase house prices and reduce poverty but have no effect on unemployment rates.

Middle Tennessee State University mathematical sciences Nottely Seagraves from Murfreesboro, Tenn., gives her research presentation May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. This year’s program concluded with scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
MTSU mathematical sciences Nottely Seagraves from Murfreesboro, Tenn., gives her research presentation May 3 as part of the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program in the Jones College of Business. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

‘Excelled past my expectations’

Arik was beyond impressed by the students’ results. 

The students have excelled past my expectations,” he said. “They provided substantive analyses of some very complex issues, and their insights offer valuable perspectives on addressing them. I am incredibly proud of their hard work and dedication.”

Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP Advisory Committee, also praised the program, saying it “initiative begins the rigorous journey to address our most pressing social issues through informed urban planning.” He added that the Scholars Program fulfills the “Constitutional promise of the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

“The mission of the COE-URP Scholars Program is to serve as a beacon of collaboration and innovation, illustrating how academic research can directly contribute to solving real-world problems,” Arik said. “Whether through daily commutes, hospital visits, monthly electric bills, or food sources, everyone in the region is impacted daily by the topics explored through this program and can benefit from the students’ research.”

Paul Martin Jr., chair of the Jennings and Rebecca Jones Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning, standing right, addresses attendees to research presentations by the inaugural cohort of the chair’s Scholars Program within the Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University. This May 3 year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
Paul Martin Jr., chair of the Jennings and Rebecca Jones Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning, standing right, addresses attendees to research presentations by the inaugural cohort of the chair’s Scholars Program within the Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University. This May 3 year’s program concluded with the scholar presentations inside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

About the COE-URP

The Jennings and Rebecca Jones Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning, or COE-URP, produces and disseminates information relevant to the planning needs and issues in the Midstate region. It encourages dialogue on these important issues among area policymakers, opinion leaders, and the broader community of interest.

For more information on COE-URP, visit https://mtsu.edu/urp/

— Josh Narrell, COE-URP and Business and Economic Research Center graduate assistant, jpn3a@mtmail.mtsu.edu

Middle Tennessee State University students participating in the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program are shown May 3 outside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where they concluded this year’s program with the research presentations inside a building classroom. Picture, front row from left, are Andrea Lawrence, COE-URP executive assistant; scholars Anna Collins, Lula Baldriche, Nottely Seagraves and Leah Kimbro; Murat Arik, chairholder; and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. Back row, from left, COE-URP graduate assistant Josh Narrell; and scholars Matthew Liu, Elijah Mitchell, Usman Saeed and Nathaniel Harrison. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)
MTSU students participating in the inaugural cohort of the Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholars Program are shown May 3 outside the Academic Classroom Building on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where they concluded this year’s program with the research presentations inside a building classroom. Picture, front row from left, are Andrea Lawrence, COE-URP executive assistant; scholars Anna Collins, Lula Baldriche, Nottely Seagraves and Leah Kimbro; Murat Arik, chairholder; and Paul Martin Jr., chair of the COE-URP advisory committee. Back row, from left, COE-URP graduate assistant Josh Narrell; and scholars Matthew Liu, Elijah Mitchell, Usman Saeed and Nathaniel Harrison. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

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